Earlier this week came one of those deep, heavy sighs of relief following near-disaster that only the Bruins seem capable of creating, and not necessarily always delivering on.
David Pastrnak, their whiz right wing who is one of the greater pure goal scorers the team has had in years, had signed a new contract. He’ll count as a $6.67 million cap hit for the next six years and bounce around on a line with either David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron as his center for the near future.
He also finished his rookie contract right after scoring 34 goals and 36 points, so in the finest of Bruins tradition, it was time to wonder if he was destined to get his first 40-goal season on another team.
Pastrnak was left without a contract for the entire summer. His restricted free agent status meant the Bruins could have matched any offer from another team, and there seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement against signing restricted players to offer sheets, for the most part.
Again, this is over and settled, and it would be speculation to say what impact it had on the player or general manager Don Sweeney as the days wore on. But it created a source of stress for fans, to be sure. And it’s the team’s own history that’s caused that.
It’s easy to look at the Bruins from the outside as being needlessly combative with their younger players. Depending on who’s speaking, they either balked at giving Dougie Hamilton a six-year contract when he finished his entry level deal, or he refused to sign one in Boston. Tyler Seguin was about to begin the first year of a six-season pact in 2013-14 when he was traded to Dallas for Loui Eriksson. Phil Kessel also didn’t want to sign for what the Bruins were offering before 2009-10 and was traded to Toronto.
Each one of those had their own set of circumstances, and each one could be defended or decried accordingly. In the end, they were fine without Kessel, the Seguin trade was premature and the Hamilton trade set the development of the defense corps back a few years. But they’ve survived, and it’s in part due to a determined effort to develop and keep young talent in the wake of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s 2015 firing.
Which is why it was so important to not halt the youth movement, and to not alienate Pastrnak. Even in their Stanley Cup season, they didn’t have a player with Pastrnak’s skill set. They had heady playmakers in Bergeron and Krejci, snipers in Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, along with a number of players who could make the key pass and play within the system well enough to constantly put the Bruins in a position to succeed.
But all of that takes a tremendous amount of work, and when one of those gears isn’t turning the way it’s supposed to, the entire machine slows down and the level of difficulty rises. And with the league moving more towards speed and skill with each year, having a player who can fly down the ice and turn mistakes into scoring opportunities is a must.
It’d be nice to have more players like this, honestly. Maybe Anders Bjork or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson can grow into the next young offensive force.
In the meantime, having Pastrnak signed and secured is a relief. Next comes the hockey, and the expectations his new contract brings. But that’s a much more enjoyable version of “wait and see” than any holdout could ever be.
Nick Tavares' column appears Sundays in The Standard-Times and at SouthCoastToday.com. He can be reached at email@example.com